Live From Davos: Richard Branson and CEO Panel Discuss Shift Toward Purpose-Led Transformation and More

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, led an event at the World Economic Forum today that unveiled initial findings from new research by EY and Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

The findings, which reveal how leading companies are transforming with a purpose to drive innovation and growth, were discussed by distinguished panelists that included: Arianna Huffington, President & Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post Media; Antony Jenkins, Group CEO, Barclays; Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever; Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman & CEO, Mondelez International; and Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, EY. The event was held in collaboration with The B Team.

The research findings include an initial review of relevant literature and assembled case studies from global firms, as well as interviews with senior executives across industries and geographies worldwide. Some of the findings include:

  • Corporate leaders see the organization’s role evolving to address global challenges, taking an active role in creating well-being and value for and with a wider set of stakeholders.
  • Leading executives are talking about purpose more and in different ways – articulating a broader purpose that is their reason for being, grounded in an outward-facing declaration around their role in the global community.
  • Leading executives are speaking a language of purpose that engages employees and customers in new ways, inviting their insights for innovation.
  • Leading executives are initiating purpose-led transformation journeys in their organizations, spanning from the brand identity through the business model, across business units and functions.
  • Business professionals recognize the importance of an integrated, humane purpose driving core functions like strategy, business models and talent management, but they acknowledge there is a gap between this recognition and the policy and practice in their organizations.

Cheryl Grise, EY’s Global Advisory Strategy Leader, says: “Purpose and meaning have an important role as a strategic, transformational element in business today. We are proud to reveal phase 1 of our research with the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, at the World Economic Forum among such distinguished business leaders. We find in our work with clients and in our thought leadership that purpose-led transformation enhances organizational agility and does so in a way that increases innovation and drives sustainable growth for businesses.”

Andrew White, Associate Dean of Executive Education at Saïd Business School, says: “We have noticed from a number of conversations with CEOs and senior leaders that defining and implementing ‘purpose’ is becoming increasingly important to them. As companies acknowledge a broader set of stakeholders to whom they are accountable – ignoring this is not just an ethical issue – but one that has a deep impact on innovation and growth.”

The event also featured the official launch of the EY Beacon Institute, which will be dedicated to transforming business through the science of purpose. Leading the co-development of the institute with members will be Valerie Keller, EY’s Strategy Executive Director. Additionally, there was a private unveiling of EY global research with Harvard Business Review (HBR) Analytic Services. The research features a survey of 474 business executives and was conducted among the readers of HBR and EY clients. It will be fully available in later in 2015. Four top-line insights shared at the meeting included:

  • Corporate purpose goes beyond financial results: 87% believe companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit.
  • Purpose-driven organizations are believed to have better results across a variety of measures: 89% say they encourage greater employee satisfaction, 85% better customer advocacy and 81% higher quality products and services.
  • Purpose is viewed as a driver of innovation and transformation: 84% believe their transformation efforts will be more successful if integrated with purpose.
  • Purpose is being underleveraged: only 37% say their business model and operations are well-aligned with their purpose.

To access phase 1 of the Oxford research and top-line findings of the HBR Analytic Services research – and learn more about the EY Beacon Institute – please visit:



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